So desperate is Running Scared to mimic the criminal luridness of Rockstar Games’s controversial Grand Theft Auto series that it even features, on its official website, a “mature” interactive game in which star Paul Walker performs virtual cunnilingus on his wife. A clear nod to GTA: San Andreas‘s pooh-poohed hidden sex mini-game, the promotional feature is also perfectly emblematic of Wayne Kramer’s pointlessly explicit cinematic protocol. Having already proven himself a second-rate thief with The Cooler—a misogynistic fiasco that shamelessly aped Leaving Las Vegas and Casino—the aesthetically derivative Kramer takes a misguided turn into Tony Scott territory with his latest. Hyperactively chopping up mundane scenes with paroxysmal edits (three cuts alone are needed for the sight of a cop’s badge), jarring film stocks, and CG-amped zooms and pans, the director concocts a visual vocabulary with such attention-deficit disorder that every action, line, and second in the film conveys a sense of in-your-face stylistic aggression.
Such strident sound and fury is, in and of itself, thoroughly unbearable. Worse, though, is that Kramer employs it in service of an empty tale of underworld warfare—meant to recall Carlito’s Way via Pulp Fiction (and not the 1986 Billy Crystal-Gregory Hines vehicle of the same name), but without any of the ethical implications underlying De Palma or Tarantino’s work—that involves a missing revolver used by mobsters to kill some crooked cops in a drug deal-gone-awry. When the gun accidentally winds up in Russian boy Oleg’s (Birth‘s Cameron Bright) possession and is subsequently used by the kid to shoot his abusive, John Wayne-loving stepfather Anzor (a cartoonishly accented Karel Roden), Mafioso thug Joey (Walker) must track the piece down while contending with his own Italian brethren, a corrupt detective (Chazz Palminteri), Eastern European tweakers, a pedophilic, serial-killing husband and wife tandem, and a flamboyant Caucasian “mack daddy pimp” so ridiculous that Gary Oldman’s Rastafarian True Romance dealer seems realistic by comparison.
Amid this shallow, vulgar morass of cultural stereotypes and racial epithets, Walker reconfirms his status as filmdom’s preeminent hunky cipher, incapable of endowing his increasingly harried hoodlum with anything remotely approaching a personality. Nonetheless, his vacant good looks (here scruffed up in a futile attempt to make him look “hard”) and embarrassing macho posturing are both an ideal complement to Bright’s trademark blank expression (which appears to be the young actor’s only look) and a suitable foil for the remaining cast’s unbridled crude bluster. Still, considering that Walker is forced to enact an on-his-knees scream to the heavens as the camera pulls back from the ground, it’s hard to imagine anyone—including Down to the Bone‘s sterling Vera Farmiga, here consigned to making the best of a bad situation as Walker’s nagging, tough-as-nails wife—surviving Kramer’s egocentric penchant for interjecting his own presence into every last centimeter of the sadistic Running Scared‘s bustling, blood-splattered frame.